Social engineering

In UP, the state of electoral play

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With assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) less than a year away, all political parties have begun putting in place their strategies. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is trying to woo Brahmins once again after 14 years. The party has decided to hold a series of Prabuddh Sammelans (conference of enlightened people) across the state. This began in Ayodhya and will cover 72 districts. The BSP conducted a similar exercise in 2006-07. This resulted in a successful outcome at that time and the party got 206 seats, a majority in the assembly. Can this work again?

While this appears difficult at the moment, there is no denying that BSP leader Mayawati is a political genius who has in the past shown an ability to outwit her rivals. In terms of national vote share, the BSP is the fourth largest party after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress, and the Trinamool Congress. The Akali Dal has allied with the BSP for the Punjab assembly elections next year. And Mayawati has experimented with different and unique political equations. But this battle is specifically about UP, where the party indeed faces challenges.

In the run-up to the assembly polls, the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Akhilesh Yadav is among the strongest contenders. Over the last year, Yadav has been trying to woo caste-based parties, which have been alienated from the BJP. Previous coalitions with the BSP and the Congress have taught him that arrangements with national parties in UP have not been to his advantage. He plans to showcase the development work that his government undertook during his tenure as chief minister (CM).

In addition, SP strategists are banking on an anti-incumbency wave against the current government. Akhilesh Yadav’s supporters believe that without the baggage of his family that dragged him down in 2017, the strength of his image alone will have a positive effect on voters. His advisers also believe that apart from Yadav and Muslim votes, the SP will also get votes from other castes and communities. To this end, the party has started exploring the possibility of fielding candidates from the most backward and Brahmin communities. However, the agreement reached between the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party could result in cutting into the SP’s share of the backward caste and Muslim vote. Yadav is also hoping to reap some benefits from the farmers’ agitation in western UP, but the path is not all clear for him at the moment. The Congress is the third player in the Opposition, but despite its past dominance in the state, it is struggling to find its space in the battle.

Even though the SP got 759 seats in the last panchayat elections in the state, close on the heels of the BJP which got 768 seats, figures can be misleading. These elections took place during the second wave of Covid-19 and the culmination of the peasant movement. There was a feeling of desperation and anger among the people. Despite this, the BJP did well.

CM Yogi Adityanath has an image of being both combative and hardworking. He is seen as tough on law and order issues and there are no allegations of misuse of office or corruption against him. During the last four-and-a-half years, he has proved to be a good administrator who has no hesitation in accepting and rectifying his shortcomings.

It must also be kept in mind that if Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi himself chose to opt for Varanasi as his constituency, it is because he is more popular with the UP electorate than anywhere else in the country. Defence minister Rajnath Singh is also a veteran leader from UP.

The saffron party has made great strides in social engineering in the state. It has co-opted smaller caste-based parties such as Apna Dal of Anupriya Patel. It is actively working to win the trust of those who have expressed dissatisfaction with it. A look at the size and type of the state cabinet provides a clearer picture. Yogi Adityanath’s deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya comes from a backward community and played an important role in the BJP winning a majority. The other deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma is a Brahmin. Apart from this, Swami Prasad Maurya, Anil Rajbhar, Jai Prakash Nishad, Dara Singh Chouhan and Shriram Chouhan are known for their influence over the backward classes. State party president Swatantra Dev Singh also falls into this category.

The BJP will go to the polls with promises of a clean government and try and showcase the results of its social engineering. But social engineering is not unique to the BJP because its opponents seem to be playing the same card. In addition, a large section of the party’s Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly stayed away from their constituents during the brutal waves of the pandemic. So achievements have to be weighed against anti-incumbency and the BJP will have to do a lot of work to ensure that it blunts the edge of the latter. The party may deny tickets to a range of incumbents to retain ground.

The Bengal and Bihar elections have been a wake-up call, and it is important that as poll season picks up, all parties remain sensitive and committed to the idea of delivering a clean, sensitive, democratic government.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

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